Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) as a Contributing Coaching Philosophy for Expansive Education in the 21st Century

21 Mar

Inspirational learning strategies utilising natural learning processes with NLP: Creating ‘outstanding’ students; creating ‘outstanding’ teachers; creating ‘outstanding’ schools. is an educational consultation organisation that emphasises the importance of eliciting natural learning processes for learners (in whatever context) through the utilisation of Neuro-Linguistic Programming techniques and strategies. Dr Voldis Kudliskis is Post-16 Provision Coordinator at South Dartmoor Community College, Devon. Voldis frequently utilises a range of NLP techniques in a teaching and learning context with post-16 students.

In a recent blog by Professor Bill Lucas the purpose of school in the 21st Century was examined. Lucas introduced the tenets of the concept of ‘expansive education’. The second tenet is of particular interest to the NLP coach because notions that intelligence is expandable, a growth mindset, and that a strong sense of self-belief in the potential to learn are key to successful learning in the 21st Century. The opening section of Lucas’ article is as follows:

Why do we send children to school for 11 years or more? Or to put it another way, as my colleague Professor Guy Claxton has done in his excellent book with the question as its title: “What’s the point of school?”

There are many different answers to this question, but all of them, implicitly or explicitly, have an image of what the educated 16 or 19-year-old ought to be like at the end of the formal school process.

Some say schools are for introducing children to the heritage of the past and acquiring certain knowledge, understanding and an appreciation of the best of their culture. For others, school is essentially a preparation for employment. Perhaps the most widespread view is that schools should somehow achieve an amalgam of these two goals.

But we don’t. We think that education is, above all, a preparation for the future. We have no idea what their world will be like in 30 years, except that it will be different. Beyond the basic literacies of language, mathematics and digital technology, it is hard to say what specific skills or knowledge young people are going to need. We have to find goals for education that are at a deeper, more generic level.

So the core purpose of education has to be to give all young people the confidence and capacity to flourish in the uncertain world which they will inhabit. They will need, among other things, resilience, the ability to collaborate, the capacity to reflect and, perhaps above all, to willingness to adapt and change.

We think the development of such capabilities or dispositions has to form the core curriculum of any system of education in the 21st century. It is what we are calling expansive education. There are four senses in which such education is expansive:


  • First, the goals of school are expanded beyond necessary success in examinations explicitly to include cultivation of the kinds of dispositions necessary for a lifetime of successful learning and living. Research shows unambiguously that those who develop a more advanced conception of themselves as learners also score better in tests.


  • Second, learners are themselves expandable or at least their intelligence is. Here we draw on the work of, for example, Professors Carol Dweck, Lauren Resnick and David Perkins, as well as on the experience of Building Learning Power. Especially by adopting what Prof Dweck terms a “growth mindset”, a strong sense of self-belief in their potential for learning, students can transform the way they perform.


  • Third, the scope of learning expands beyond the classroom into the school grounds and beyond the school gates into the real world, embracing authentic learning challenges in different contexts.


  • Fourth, teachers expand their role to include the idea that they are also learners. Specifically they use action research approaches to undertake their own enquiries into the impact of their teaching.


It is the second of these tenets in which NLP can provide a powerful force for change. (The importance and relevance of NLP should not be excluded with reference to the other three tenets). NLP can enable and empower learners, both young and old, to develop a growth mindset and a strong sense of self-belief. The remainder of this article explores this in a little more detail.


The place for NLP in developing a strong sense of self-belief

Beliefs are deeply held opinions or views about the world that we perceive to be the ‘truth’; but they are simply our map of how the world is, not the territory. New beliefs are formed as we go through life. They may be changed, discarded or become stronger and more resistant to change. Beliefs determine what you pay attention to. What you pay attention to then guides your behaviour.

Our beliefs are formed unconsciously at different times and from different sources. When you are a child you are exposed to your family’s way of thinking about the world, even if they never talked directly about what you believed. You form new beliefs from any experience that has made you think about life in a different way, and when you encounter new areas of life about which you have no existing opinions.

Most people presume that beliefs and opinions change as a direct result of the information that comes through the senses. In fact, we delete and distort that information according to our beliefs – we only notice the information that proves our existing belief making it self-fulfilling and resistant to change. In other words, belief helps to create the reality around us, and you act according to the reality that you have created.


Core Beliefs

‘Core beliefs’ are beliefs so deeply held that they are essential to our identity and so much part of the way we see the world that we never question them.


‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Beliefs

Beliefs are not ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, only ‘useful’ or ‘not useful’. You may have a set of beliefs that work very well for you. However, if your situation changes, they may outlive their usefulness. For example, the belief that you are a kind, considerate person seems likely to produce positive behaviour. Yet it might mean that you forget your own needs, or that you can’t make a decision without other people’s approval. A new managerial position in the school may require you to make tough personal decisions that might make you unpopular. How would this fit into the belief about yourself?

Every time you make a decision you change or reinforce a belief. For example, a teacher may decide, early in the academic year, that ‘little Johnny’ or ‘little Sarah’ are a disruptive influence on the class. Later the teacher may have unhappy relationships with those students as the teacher attempts, unconsciously, to prove themselves right.

Sometimes it is simple to change your beliefs – if someone proves to you that your opinion is wrong, you will probably change it. However, sometimes you can’t change one belief without changing a string of others.



As indicated earlier the core purpose of education has to be to give all young people the confidence and capacity to flourish in the uncertain world which they will inhabit. Expansive education, it is argued, will help young people develop capabilities or dispositions to engage with education in the 21st Century. Key to success will be a growth mindset and a strong sense of self-belief. Learners and teachers will need to examine and re-examine the usefulness of their beliefs. The successful learner will be one who will embrace beliefs that are useful and reject those beliefs that are not useful. Essential to this process will be teachers who have a sophisticated coaching toolbox; contained within that toolbox will be strategies and techniques associated with NLP that will generate positive, useful beliefs. These useful beliefs will contribute to an expansive education and the positive academic and social development of the individual.

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